john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Matthew 9: Family values

    Good Shepherd - Morning Communion 21/9/2008


    Proverbs 3.13-18, Matthew 9.9-13
    Happy are those who find wisdom,
    and those who get understanding,
    for her income is better than silver,
    and her revenue better than gold.
    She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
    Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honour.
    Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
    She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called happy.
    Wisdom sounds like a good mother - a very precious person who helps those who hold on to her, find happiness and peace in their lives.

    I think that the message of the book of Proverbs is that wisdom is on offer to all of us, God wants us all to have some wisdom in our lives. Practical wisdom - so that we too can be good parents - precious people in our community who can help others around us to find happiness and peace in their lives.

    Today in our series of talks about issues in our society I'd like us to think about family.

    Here's some facts and figures about families today. [1]
    There were 17.1 million families in the UK at the last count.

    The average number of children has fallen to 1.8 in a family.

    The proportion of children in non-married families has trebled in the last 50 years to around 40%.

    The divorce rate has fallen to its lowest level for 22 years, 12.2 per thousand married people. The divorce rate in 1961 was 2.1 per thousand married people.

    More people are living on their own these days. By 2026 38 percent of households will be occupied by one person. The increase in single-person households is partly down to people putting off getting married until later in life.

    Over half of people said they ......... with their family every day:
    a) watched TV
    b) argued
    c) ate
    What can we tell about Jesus' attitude towards family life?

    We know that Jesus had a family but we don't know much about any of them except Mary, who follows her son's life and career closely, is there for him right the way through.

    We know that famous and very disturbing statement of Jesus that 'Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.' (Luke 14:26). He was demanding total commitment from his followers which meant that they had to leave their family ties behind.

    But we also know - from the example that he set - that he faithfully obeyed the fifth commandment, 'Honour your father and your mother...' (Exodus 20:12)

    Today's gospel reading reminds us about something else which Jesus believed about family. It was that the family of God embraces all people, whatever they are like.

    It is the story of Matthew, the tax-collector, who Jesus saw at work and to whom Jesus said, "Follow me".

    Matthew, the customs officer, the debt-collector, whose job was to take money and possessions from the poor to give to the rich. Matthew who, because of his job, he didn't have many friends, spent most of his time at home or socialising with the other men who he worked with. But one day Jesus said to Matthew, "Follow me." And as we know, Jesus then went off to Matthew's house to he sit at dinner there, and 'many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.'

    It's very like the story of Zacchaeus we heard two weeks ago. And I suggest to you that it tells us this about Jesus's idea of the family: the family of God embraces all people, whatever they are like. In fact Jesus goes further than that. When he was criticised for eating with tax-collectors and sinners, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.'

    Now if we think of our own family lives than I think that we can understand what Jesus means.

    Because we all understand the truth in the saying that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.

    And we all understand the reality that sometimes family life is tough - because families have difficult people in them, or things happen in families which make it hard for some to carry on talking to others... you know what I'm talking about...

    ... what I'm talking about is that if we could choose our family then there are some people we would definitely leave out...!

    But the reality is that we can't do that. And the scriptures are realistic about what we should do instead.

    The scriptures encourage us to embrace the ways of wisdom in our relationships, like a good parent
    [whose] ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
    She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called happy.
    The scriptures encourage us to embrace the ways of Jesus in our relationships, giving time and love to those difficult ones around us, as well as those we find it easy to love and get on with.

    I think that the scriptures are also asking us to think outside the family, to be prepared to embrace people who aren't our own flesh and blood.

    I think that is what Jesus demonstrated in his own life, in the time that he spent away from his home and family eating and drinking in the homes of people like Matthew and Zacchaeus.

    I think that maybe for us today what this means is that Jesus wants us to be good neighbours. To be concerned with our own families of course. To be concerned with the difficult ones in our own families as well as the loveable ones. But also to be concerned with other people outside our families - in particular to be concerned with other people outside our families who others have little time for.

    How often do we hear the phrase these days: 'I blame the parents'?

    The story behind this is usually about young people being a nuisance on the streets, or a very small minority getting into criminal activities. And behind them there's usually a family who can't cope. If the family could cope then their young people wouldn't be the trouble that they are to others.

    Now of course the parents do have a big responsibility, to try to get their children behaving well.

    But: 'I blame the parents'. Is that a phrase we find in scripture?

    This doesn't sound much like wisdom,
    [whose] ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
    If I say 'I blame the parents', that gets me off the hook. It means I'm not having anything to do with them or their problems.

    This doesn't sound much like the wise person
    [who] is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called happy.
    'I blame the parents'. This doesn't sound much like Jesus who ate with tax-collectors and sinners, saying, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.'

    So perhaps the call of God to us is to take the love we have for our families out into our neighbourhoods. To learn, through God's generous gift of wisdom how to stop saying 'I blame the parents' and instead to share with them the burden they have of bringing up their family in a difficult time, at a difficult age.
    Happy are those who find wisdom,
    and those who get understanding,
    for her income is better than silver,
    and her revenue better than gold.

    She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called happy.
    Bringing up a family well requires wisdom. If you've been blessed with that - and I think you have - then why not share it with others who really need it in their family lives.



    Notes
    [1] Questions and statistics from the BBC online Test your family knowledge quiz